SS10/11: Mikkelsen retires
Thierry Neuville took the lead of Kennards Hire Rally Australia at the midpoint of Saturday’s second leg after team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen retired when he hit a bank and punctured two tyres.
Stage info: SS10/11
SS10: Newry 17 1, 20.87km
Newry runs through deep forest with barely a place where you can see out above the trees. However, shafts of light shine through the canopy, leaving shadows on the road which make it hard to spot braking points. Potentially damaging tree stumps line the roadsides and the surface is dusty in places. The route has been heavily revised, but the roads are familiar.
SS11: Raceway SSS, 1.37km
First driven 12 months ago, Raceway SSS is on a purpose-built track used for karting, drifting and rallycross. Two small sections of gravel break up the asphalt. It’s a great venue for fans, with grass banks rising above the track providing great viewing.
Mikkelsen’s hopes of repeating his victory 12 months ago were shattered early in a dramatic Newry stage when the Norwegian made a mistake. The impact punctured his Hyundai i20’s front and rear left tyres and with only one spare onboard, he could not continue.
“It happened about 2km after the start on a right-hander over a crest, third or fourth gear. I touched the bank on the outside quite hard. Sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don’t. This time we didn’t,” explained the emotional Norwegian.
“I thought I had a puncture on the left rear but soon after the front felt strange too. I have one spare so we’re not going anywhere. It’s devastating. With our tyre choice we didn’t consider two spares. We were saving our tyres for later.”
It wasn’t plain sailing for Neuville either. He was one of several drivers to overshoot a corner early in the stage and dropped almost 10sec.
“I went straight on at a junction. I was following lines in the road, braked too late and had to reverse. It was a tricky bend, I knew it was tightening but didn’t know when,” said the Belgian, who also lost first gear and planned a gearbox change at the Coffs Harbour service.
Jari-Matti Latvala (below) was fastest in Newry and after safely negotiating the short fan-favourite Raceway test, the Finn steered his Toyota Yaris into service just 6.3sec behind Neuville.
“It was a good morning I must say, and now a surprising situation. Now it’s a tough fight and Thierry is fighting really, really hard,” said Latvala.
Mikkelsen’s demise allowed Kris Meeke to regain third in his Citroën C3, 15.7sec behind Latvala. Ott Tänak was fastest in Raceway in his Ford Fiesta and the Estonian closed to within 4.8sec of Meeke, who overshot the same junction as Neuville.
Craig Breen was fifth ahead of Hayden Paddon, who finished Newry with a branch poking through his i20’s grille perilously close to the radiator. Sébastien Ogier was seventh in his Fiesta and another to overshoot, with Stéphane Lefebvre, Elfyn Evans and Esapekka Lappi completing the leaderboard.
SS9: Neuville attacks
Latvala demotes Meeke from podium place
Friday in Australia: Masterful Mikkelsen dominates
Norwegian controls opening day Down Under
SS4/5: Mikkelsen marches on
Neuville ends Norwegian’s winning run